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The Tri-City Dust Devils scored six in the first inning, and Hillsboro couldn't come back.

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Hillsboro Hops pitcher Jacob Stevens, pictured during a July 22 game with catcher Lyle Lin, gave up a first-inning grand slam Sunday, Sept. 8.The Tri-City Dust Devils evened the Northwest League Championship Series and the Hillsboro Hops concluded their slate of home games in a Sunday, Sept. 8, contest that was practically over before it started.

The Dust Devils won 9-1 to send the series to Pasco, Washington, tied at one game apiece. The Hops won Game 1 on Saturday, Sept. 7, in wild walkoff fashion, but the hole Sunday was simply too deep and Tri-City pitching kept Hillsboro off-balance all game.

Tri-City scored six runs on just two hits in the first inning, benefiting from wildness by Hops starter Blake Walston and reliever Jacob Stevens, who combined to walk three and hit a fourth batter before the back-breaker. Catcher Jonny Homza turned on a full-count pitch from Stevens and roped it just inside the left field foul pole for a grand slam.

The Hops clawed back a run in the bottom of the inning on a single by designated hitter Dom Canzone. But they couldn't gain traction, and the Dust Devils just kept coming.

"It's just hard to keep the offense going when the other team scores six runs in the first inning," Hops manager Javier Colina said after the game. "It's not easy to come back."

As the weather worsened — some fans peeled off from the action to peer north toward the Tualatin Mountains, where dark clouds swirled amid a National Weather Service tornado warning in neighboring Multnomah County — Tri-City scored one more on a wild pitch in the fourth, then added a pair on a home run by Tre Carter in the fifth.

Carter wasn't even in the starting lineup for the Dust Devils. He came in to pinch-run and play center field after Matthew Acosta took a pitch from rehabbing Hillsboro reliever Cody Reed off the helmet in the fourth inning. It didn't appear to be a direct hit, and Acosta was able to walk off the field under his own power.

The Hops weren't just moribund on offense — they were also sloppy on defense. Hillsboro fielders committed five errors in the contest, three of them charged to a pitcher. Even still, all nine of the Dust Devils' runs were scored as earned.

The two teams combined for just eight hits.

In Colina's words, it was "a silly game all the way around."

The loss was a sour note to end what has been a remarkable year at Ron Tonkin Field. After narrowly losing the division to the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes in the first half of the season, the Hops stormed back to win the second half and earn a playoff spot despite being decimated by player promotions. Leaders in the Northwest League with a 48-28 record over the entire season, they swept the Volcanoes in a best-of-three division series last week. On Saturday, they came back to score five innings over the last two innings and walk off the Dust Devils.

After Sunday's loss, Colina is looking for his team to put it behind them and play tighter baseball in Pasco.

"I still trust my guys. I still believe in the team I have," Colina said. "It was a tough game for us today, and you know, we're going to make adjustments and be ready to roll tomorrow."

The Hops won't return to play another game at Ron Tonkin Field until 2020. They will meet the Dust Devils at Gesa Stadium in Pasco on Monday, Sept. 9. The soonest either team could clinch the victory in the best-of-five series is Tuesday, Sept. 10.

Game 5 will be played Wednesday, Sept. 11, at Gesa Stadium if necessary.

By Mark Miller
Washington County Editor
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